Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding a hotel with a heart in Paris

Finding the right hotel for a trip away is never an easy task. Although online searches can reveal the best prices, it is more difficult to be assured of reliable quality control. To fill this gap, Thierry Leclercq and his brother Jérôme left their jobs to set up Heart of Paris Hotels, a hotel reservation website featuring only establishments that they have personally visited and approved. Here I talk to Thierry about his motivations and about how you can get the best from a visit to Paris.

Why did you create Heart of Paris Hotels?
Both my brother and I have a long experience in online hotel reservations, but after working for hundreds of hotels located in 40 countries, we decided to concentrate on the place that we know the best - Paris. We also decided that we should not take all hotels, but only the ones which are well located and will in our mind give entire satisfaction to travellers.

How do you differ from other hotel reservation sites?
Above all I would say our hotel selection. When we visit hotels before featuring them, we put ourselves in the position of the traveller and ask "would I like to stay in this hotel?". Most hotel search websites take hotel information from databases provided by other companies and the information is not checked, meaning travellers can have bad surprises.

Some hoteliers are very surprised when I say we can't accept their hotel without visiting it first. They are even more surprised if we finally refuse their hotel. Since March 2010, we have refused an average of 2 out of 3 hotels.

How do you select the hotels?
First we check the location of a hotel which is very important to us. We won't send a customer to an area where we would not stay ourselves. Secondly, we look at the hotel website, and check forums and customers reviews. If a problem appears several times on an important point such as cleanliness or staff behavior, we immediately refuse the hotel. If we are satisfied by the information we read, we visit the hotel, meet the owner or a manager and take a decision. The manager must be motivated by the partnership with Heart of Paris Hotels. If we can't feel it, the best thing to do is to refuse the hotel because we are quite sure problems will happen with travelers even if the hotel is a good one.

What should people look for when booking a hotel?
Location, description, facilities, services and traveller reviews. However, you need to be very careful with reviews as some are written by the hotel itself and some by its competitors! The reviews on our site though are only written by genuine customers!

Of course the price is very important for many guests but you should also be wary of the discounts offered by the hotels. Discounts are calculated on the public rate basis, and some hotels use a high public rate that it is only ever charged for a few days per year, so it looks as if they are offering really great discounts. For similar hotels and rooms in the same location, I suggest travellers compare the room rates and not the discounts.

Is it still possible to find reasonable hotels and good service in Paris?
If you visit during high season, especially when there is a major exhibition, it is very difficult to find low rates, good service and great locations. During low seasons in winter and in August, you can find good prices in very charming and well located hotels. Weekends are often cheaper though and you can find very interesting rates.

Finally, what are your recommendations for the ideal Paris weekend?
Paris has so much to offer and it would be stupid to have a weekend ruined by a poor choice of hotel. I would suggest choosing a lively area as it is always more convenient in the evening to go back to the hotel without taking a taxi or public transport. Hotels are soundproofed so you don't need to worry about noise from the street.

Each traveller has different desires and expectations, which is why we offer hotels with such different atmospheres. We know that the atmosphere of the hotel very much contributes to a successful stay. Romantics will prefer hotels such as Les Grands Hommes, Hotel de Latour Maubourg, and L'Horset Opera. If you are more trendy, The Five, The Seven and Le Fabe, with their colours and light effects will be up your street. If you a fan of design and technology, I am sure the Design Sorbonne, equipped with a large screen IMac in all rooms, will delight you. There are also boutique hotels where you will feel at home, such as Villa Madame or Hotel du Bois.

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